Written by: Rik

Date posted: August 3, 2002

John Blade! He shoot bad guys in the crotch!

A confession: I nearly didn’t buy Half-Life. I was going to buy Sin instead because I thought it looked better. Sure, it sounds ridiculous now, but I’d been looking forward to Sin for ages, it had received favourable reviews, and besides, Half-Life was ten quid more expensive. Furthermore, the screenshots of the games didn’t suggest they were that different from each other anyway (and who can resist the old “screenshots on the back of the box” test?). Luckily for me, the esteemed creator of FFG happened to be present and he admonished me for my ignorance: Half-Life was by far the better game, and I wouldn’t regret buying it (and letting him play it on my computer all week long).

He was right: I didn’t regret buying Half-Life, but I was still interested in playing Sin. And when I did, I simply couldn’t believe the gulf in quality between the two. On the surface, they’re similar games: first-person shooters with real-world settings each with a heavy dose of mutants and aliens. To compare to two however highlights the difference between producing a half-decent shooter and coming up with something that sets new standards.

Looking back, it’s difficult to decide whether Sin (or SiN as wE’re suPposEd to cAll iT) deserved recommendation or not. In fairness to those who praised it, it arrived a couple of months before Half-Life and was generally perceived as a welcome break from the brown dirge known as Quake, with the inclusion of a storyline, cut-scenes and a contemporary setting all welcome innovations. On the other hand, Sin was released in such a farcically unfinished state it becomes difficult to understand why the frustration experienced by reviewers who must have had to endure the game’s numerous bugs was not reflected in review scores.

Like Half-Life, Sin uses in-engine cut-scenes.

Let’s deal with the bugs first. If you own “vanilla” Sin and attempt to play it from the box, you’ll experience untold frustration. The game might not load up, for a start, and if it does, you might have difficulty saving your game. Sometimes the game launches with the software renderer, the sound suddenly stops working, or the game will simply lock up your computer. Sometimes you’re sure your PC has locked up when it hasn’t, because each level takes so long to load. If you get hold of the first couple of patches you’ll only wonder at what the game would have been like if you hadn’t got them, because bugs still reside around every corner. They at least render the game playable for a while, although the 1.1 version inexplicably features a bug that prevents you from completing the penultimate level – which is bloody frustrating if you’ve retained the patience to make it that far only to be denied so close to the end. There are loads of further patches available, but since newer versions of the game won’t recognise your old saves, it’s doubtful you’ll want to play through again.

Once you get it up and running, however, there is some fun to be had. Even now, the sheer variety of the game’s levels is particularly striking. There’s an impressive array of locations on offer, with the chance to make use of a range of vehicles on occasion. For example, Sin‘s opener sees you approaching the rooftop of a bank on a helicopter, while later on you hop onto a quad bike to pursue a villain before taking to the water to snipe some bad guys on an oil rig. Somewhat less excitingly, you’re also required to make use of building machinery at various stages, although usually it’s just an excuse to let you knock down a wall or two.

Take that, bankrobber types!

Speaking of which, interaction with the game world is quite a large part of the Sin experience. We’ve seen this before, of course (see Duke Nukem 3D), and it’s mainly nothing more than window dressing: the wall-smashing mentioned above, for example, may look better than pressing a button to open a door, but essentially it’s the same thing. Still, it is slightly more interesting, especially when combined with the real-world locations on offer. Besides, Sin does offer a little more in this respect, occasionally offering you the choice between opening a door with a key and, er, smashing it down with a wrecking ball.

Other choices in the game are not so superficial. Occasionally you are made to feel as if your actions have consequences, and you can quite often make things easier for yourself in later levels by being thorough in your button pressing and/or competent with the array of weapons at your disposal. Perform well with the mounted machine-gun on the helicopter level and you’ll be able to land on the roof; fail to take out enough bad guys and you’ll have to go in the front door. Accomplish enough of your secondary objectives and you can even bypass entire missions. It’s not exactly revolutionary stuff, but it’s enough to make you feel like the experience isn’t entirely linear.

At the start of the first map, you're in a chopper manning a machinegun.

That said, Sin has dated badly in comparison with its superior rival (that’ll be HL again). Graphically, it’s not too offensive, if a little bit chunky, but the plot is laughable, especially when combined with the terrible voice-acting and the clumsily-constructed cut-scenes. Above all, contemporary setting and interaction aside, the core gameplay offers little that hasn’t been seen before a thousand times over, and it simply might not be enough to satisfy discerning gamers any more. Your character, John R. Blade (oh, please) is your typical Duke Nukem type, and you might find that the finger-on-the-trigger gameplay impresses him much more than it does you. You plough through level after level, taking bullets in the face from point-blank range while racking up the body-count yourself. It’s fun for a while, but ultimately the whole experience feels a little hollow.

Guns ‘n’ glory gameplay isn’t enough these days. Soldier of Fortune took this approach more recently, and was saved from a lukewarm reception only by the novelty factor of being able to blow people’s limbs off. Whether you enjoy Sin depends on what you expect from a first-person shooter. If you’ve been playing the likes of Medal of Honor recently and then go back to this, you’ll be surprised just how high Half-Life raised the bar when it arrived. If you’re an FPS completist, give it a whirl – you might well enjoy it, if of course you’re prepared to accept unfinished software and spend your time patching it up to make it playable.